I find young children to be excellent theologians. They ask honest questions. They are humble, and quite comfortable with what Piaget calls "magical thinking" which may well be our native predisposition to mysticism. Recently Clara has been exploring the doctrine of the Trinity, and that has led to some fascinating and humorous conversations.
While tucking her in bed recently, Clara told me that she was afraid to go to sleep.
"Don't be afraid," I told her. "Jesus is always with you."
To which she queried, "Did Jesus have a Jesus?"
Mom: "No. But Jesus had God the Father."
Clara:"I thought Jesus was God."
Mom: "Jesus is God but there are three persons in one God, like a family."
Clara:"Does God the Father have a God the Father?"
Mom: "No, God the Father has no father. He created everything. But God the Father has Jesus and the Holy Spirit."
Clara: "Will God the Father die?"
Mom : "No."
Clara: "But Jesus died."
Mom: "Yes, but Jesus was a man and God. And Jesus didn't stay dead."
Clara: "Does God the Father like what Jesus does?"
Mom: "Yes. He loves everything that Jesus does."
Clara: "Does God the Father like what we do?"
Mom: "It depends. God loves it when we do good things, and He is sad when we do bad things."
Clara: "What if Jesus does bad things."
Mom: "He won't."
And with that I was happy to turn the conversation back to her dolly dresses because we were now swimming in deep waters.
I am always delighted when children ask such questions and accept my answers so readily. I wonder when Clara will realize that she has plumbed the depths of my understanding of the Trinity, that we are really both young children looking into the same mystery, with all the same questions.
Lack of theological sophistication is no impediment to faith, especially when simplicity is the result of youth rather than laziness or disinterest. I remember the sincerity of my very early prayers, and I feel certain they must have been as pleasing to God as any I have offered since, if not more so.
Today is the feast of St. Agnes, said to have been martyred in Rome at the age of twelve. Sadly, Agnes is not the only child martyr in the annals of Christian history. In 1887 there were several young Christian boys burned alive in Uganda when they refused to renounce their faith. And there are many others. I would not doubt that some have joined their ranks in the past year, given Christian/Muslim strife in Africa and the Middle East.
This passage commemorating St. Agnes' feast day was written by St. Ambrose. It moves me, challenges me and spurs me to prayer for my little theologian.
Today is the birthday of a virgin; let us imitate her purity. It is the birthday of a martyr; let us offer ourselves in sacrifice. It is the birthday of Saint Agnes, who is said to have suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve. The cruelty that did not spare her youth shows all the more clearly the power of faith in finding one so young to bear it witness....All are amazed that one not yet of legal age can give her testimony to God. So she succeeds in convincing others of her testimony about God, though her testimony in human affairs could not yet be accepted. What is beyond the power of nature, they argue, must come from its creator.